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Grateful Rescue: Saving the backyard breeder dogs

Pamela Terhune

Grateful Rescue & Sanctuary is a nonprofit organization located in Muncie, Indiana, and is a network partner of Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah. Grateful allows animals to run free and has absolutely no incidents of kennel stress. Animals are treated as pets until adopted.

Currently located on 22 acres of Founder and President Pamela Terhune’s private residence, Grateful Rescue recently purchased an additional 38 acres to build one of the largest animal sanctuaries in the country.

The rescue is committed to fighting puppy mills and backyard breeders. They rehabilitate terrified victims of breeding operations and show them that life is good, then place them in happy forever homes.

Here’s is Pamela’s success story about rescuing dogs from a backyard breeder:

When we were initially approached about taking in a backyard breeder’s dogs, there were only four. Three young brothers, “Golden Mountain” dogs, the “designer” name for a Golden Retriever & Bernese Mountain Dog mix, and one old Chocolate Lab who was overbred, teats-to-the-ground, used up and ready for kill unless someone was willing to take her. This backyard breeder was facing eviction from a property she’d been renting off an Amish family (which meant no electricity) for 17 years. Seventeen years of indiscriminate breeding and selling of puppies from a dark barn, these dogs lived through cold winters and hot summers, some never to see the light of day.

As time ran out before eviction day, the breeder realized the property was soon going to be locked up with no access to the contents, which included the dogs, as animals are by law considered property and not pets. The breeder began to realize that the dogs weren’t selling and resorted to “leasing” many to the Amish puppy mills. Still left with many dogs, the breeder returned to us, asking that we take a dozen more.

My husband Mike and I talked this over at length. How do we save a dozen souls with all of our space occupied? After all, this wasn’t a pack of small Poodles and Pomeranians that we can put all in one room. This was a dozen big dogs, meaning we needed close to a dozen rooms. With a mission that fights kennel craze, we needed some roomy space for these dogs. How do we do this?

We turned to two of our reliable sources: Our supporters and our horses. Horses? Yes, horses! The occupants of our beautiful stable, which is equipped with 12-by-12-foot stalls complete with four-inch padded sanitary flooring, tight without a draft and secure. The horses gave up their space for these dogs, resting in their run-ins while we got these dogs the care they needed. The care list was long.

Expected were the usual protocol items for intakes: spay and neuters, vaccines, heartworm screenings and microchips. Unexpected was learning that there was nothing normal about these dogs we call the Backyard Breeder Bunch. These dogs fear people extremely. They cower when spoken to. They buck like wild broncos if leashed and walked. They don’t know how to play, love or even relieve themselves appropriately. They are completely unsocialized.

One might think unsocialized means aggressive. Wrong. Not an aggressive bone in their bodies. They are full of fear, not rage. Interestingly, they love other dogs. Lots of dogs in the “normal” world that we consider unsocialized might be aggressive to other dogs. Not in this pack. Like victims in a prison camp, these dogs formed a bond with each other, knowing they are all in this world of despair together.

Also unexpected was the realization of the unique requirements for this pack. After two escapes from adopters and one fence jumper, we labeled each dog an extreme flight risk. If a dog gets loose, the chance of recovery is very slim. For this reason, we changed the adopter’s requirement of “fenced-in yard” to “six-foot privacy fenced-in yard” for their safety. We also heightened the adopters’ requirements from a simple loving home to “very patient, willing to work with extreme PTSD dogs and home most of the time.”


The saddest of this experience was Winston. He is a 70-pound dog who was delivered in a crate built for a 30-pound dog, without a floor, legs dangling. Sadder was the fact that he was so frightened, he elected to retreat to the tiny cage over and over for security until it was removed.

The most heartwarming of this experience: The freedom on the senior lab Cocoa’s face once she was able to roam without darkness and captivity. She amazingly carries a forgiving spirit, happily accepting love from anyone who will give it, and has been placed with a family in a home complete with a furry Jack Russell companion.


The happiest experience is watching the dogs thrive in their new surroundings after acclimating to their new lives in their new homes. Nothing fills our hearts more than watching the unbridled joy released in these newly realized lives.

After getting the dogs a space, we turned to our support network. We never, ever expected the outpouring we received. The Rescue Community is like no other. With amazing huge hearts, the whole community came together for these dogs.

Roo’s Holistic Pet Supplies: Immediately offered an unlimited supply of food, supplements, chew toys and the offer to supply anything else we might need.

City Fence: Since the dogs were being kept in our stable, we needed tall partitions that led from the stable to our seven-acre fenced in area where dogs could be walked and exercised. They were here within two days, fences erected.

The Indy Dog Whisperer, Nathan Lowe: Offered unlimited behavioral counseling to help these poor dogs learn to live a normal life, or at least adjust to some semblance of normality.

Patty Spitler, Pet Pals TV: Came to our rescue to heighten awareness of the dogs, their needs and the effect that irresponsible breeding can have on these innocent victims.

Action for Animals: A CAT rescue that brought a huge supply of dog food for the pack.

ARF, Animal Rescue Fund: Another local rescue who offers spay & neuter services, but are booked for the foreseeable future, has been fitting some of the dogs in each week, working overtime, so that we can get them ready for adoption.

Enzo, Moose and Cocoa

Redkey Veterinary: Offers flexibility weekly to tend to the pack’s variety of needs. They allow last-minute changes so that the dogs may get prompt service when they have a pending adoption and need vetting sooner than scheduled.

. . . and our amazing supporters. We announced this pack and its needs. Escape-proof harnesses, indestructible bedding and money for their medical needs, all which were met by our supporters.

When I hear the term: “It takes a village,” I will forever think of this experience. It has truly taken a village of businesses, supporters, patient adopters and, yes, even horses to save these dogs. And, just as our name simply states, we are so very GRATEFUL!

There are several dogs from this bunch still available for adoption. Visit

-- Pamela Terhune, Founder & President, Grateful Rescue & Sanctuary


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